West Campus

Civil engineering sophomore Lean Bennett walks through West Campus. The city is implementing improved lighting throughout West Campus as part of a parking benefit program between the city and the University Area Partners, a West Campus neighborhood association.
Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

City officials are planning to add lighting, trees and wider sidewalks to West Campus as part of a parking benefit program between the city and University Area Partners, a West Campus neighborhood association. 

The project, which began in 2012, first replaced free two-hour parking spots with metered parking spots. The profit from the parking meters goes toward initiatives intended to benefit the neighborhood, according to Steve Grassfield, the city’s parking enterprise manager.

“The revenue from the parking meters — minus the city costs, which are the costs of the pay stations, enforcement, paper, back office support … and then whatever is left — over 51 percent of that money goes to the neighborhood,” Grassfield said. 

Since the start of the project, the city has already spent approximately $250,000 on improving sidewalks in West Campus, according to Grassfield. The initiative also includes benches for the sidewalks, as well as more lighting.

Grassfield said after the city widened sidewalks along Rio Grande and 23rd streets, pedestrian traffic tripled in the area.

Cathy Norman, president of University Area Partners, said the project began as a way to handle increased pedestrian traffic and regulate parking. 

“When we had two-hour parking, or no regulation on the parking, people would park there for an entire semester,” Norman said. “The car would never move. But now with paid parking it really does turn over, and people think about if they want to pay to have a car.”

Linguistics junior Sandra Reyes said she wishes there was more free parking, but she supports the project and thinks West Campus sidewalks need more maintenance.

“[The sidewalks] aren’t even, so some spots flood when it rains, and it makes it hard to walk through,” Reyes said. “We have too many people in the area for how big the sidewalks are.”

Grassfield said other cities, such as Houston, have implemented similar parking benefits in neighborhoods after hearing about the project in West Campus. 

“Typically what you see in paid parking, [money] goes in and nothing really goes back to the community and this does, which is something we like because there’s only so much city money, and this goes right back into neighborhood where the revenue was produced,” Grassfield said.

Each project takes several years to finish, but sidewalk expansion also occurs with private development in the area, including the construction of new residential complexes. Norman said private development helps the project continue because it offers more opportunities for funding. 

Norman said the project mainly focuses on streets that run east to west. The city will begin making improvements to 21st, 22nd and 25th streets next.

“It’s important to fix that up, so it can bear the traffic and is comfortable and safe,” Norman said.

Thomas King, manager and barista at Caffé Medici, expresses his frustration with the unavailability of free parking spots for employees near the coffee shop.
Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Thomas King searches West Campus for parking before every shift at Caffé Medici on Guadalupe Street, where he is a manager and barista.

Like several businesses on the Drag, Caffé Medici does not have employee parking spots, and King said employees have to find parking in West Campus if they commute and don’t want to pay for a spot.

However, come December, new parking meters will eliminate many of the spots that service industry laborers use in the neighborhood.

Austin City Council approved new parking meters in West Campus in September, hoping to clear West Campus’ congested streets by producing higher turnover of parking spots. The city will begin installing the 385 new parking meters along streets including San Antonio, Nueces and Rio Grande streets in December.

“I think it’s an inappropriate and wrong way to make money,” King, who commutes from another neighborhood, said. “In some ways I feel like it’s a tax for anyone who works a service industry job. Students can buy parking spots, but not us.”

Patrick Dougan, assistant store manager at apparel store Tyler’s, said the new meters could make parking more difficult for him and his co-workers. On any given weekday at Tyler’s, there are 12 employees with cars at work but only six employee parking spots, Dougan said.

“There’s not enough parking to go around, and that’s the issue they are trying to alleviate. But it might inhibit a lot of people from being able to work,” Dougan said. “We’ve got to set an alarm and make a quick run on our breaks to pay for the meter if we don’t want to get a ticket.”

The new parking meters will have a five-hour time limit and operate Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The initial meter fees will pay back the city bonds used to install the meters. Eventually 15 to 18 percent of the funds will go to improve walkways and lighting in West Campus, Brian Donovan, chair of West Campus’ neighborhood association’s parking committee, said. The rest will pay for the costs of credit card transactions, administrative expenses and other city duties.

The city and University Area Partners, the neighborhood association for West Campus, issued the plan for the new meters over the summer. The planning process began in 2009 with two meetings by Central Austin stakeholders interested in laying out a new parking plan for the neighborhood.

Donovan said the new meters will free up spaces for commuters in West Campus by requiring them to move their cars, but he added that the meters are not a long-term solution to the neighborhood’s parking problem.

“This little thing happening in West Campus is not going to be fixing very much,” Donovan said. “It’s going to help with turnover, which should presumably help businesses along the Drag. But it doesn’t help people who work there, and it doesn’t help people who live here.”

Donovan, who also serves as general administrator of the Inter-Cooperative Council, a West Campus cooperative organization, said the new meters will remove some free parking spaces that West Campus cooperatives use.

Residents at buildings that were built in or before 1959 can apply for parking permits that exempt them from paying for street parking. Before 1959, the city did not require builders to have parking available at West Campus complexes, so the city may issue exemptions to some of these residents.

The city will determine the number of parking permits issued at these residences in an assessment of need based on the ability of each building to provide parking spaces.

For now the new city ordinance states these permits will last for a year and cost $20, although that may change in the future.

Donovan said he would like to see the city implement improved rapid metro bus systems and take a study of parking around the University in order to provide alternative options for transportation that do not impede workers in West Campus.

“I think we have insufficient transportation choices now,” Donovan said. “The most effective way for workers [to get to work] now would be carpooling, but that’s still not a pretty picture. We need an assessment, and we need to look at this thing comprehensively.”

Printed on October 26, 2012 as: Added meters may hurt workers, residents

A privately owned student-housing firm is working on a plan to bring another high-rise dormitory to West Campus.

The housing firm, American Campus Communities, has scheduled completion of the Callaway House at Austin for fall 2013. The 15-story building will be located on the site of two parking lots between 22nd and 21st streets currently owned by University Baptist Church. During a University Area Partners neighborhood association meeting on Aug. 23, representatives of American Campus Communities requested support from the West Campus community for plans to turn an alley way into a tunnel, allowing vehicles to continue through a 14-foot underpass bridged by living space.

Members of the West Campus neighborhood association voted to support the design after hearing from planners, developers and property managers involved in the proposed project.

Austin real estate lawyer Steve Drenner said developers have filed an application with the city that would give University Baptist entitlement to the alley and allow it to remain open to drivers. The application is currently under review by city staff, and city council members must approve the final proposal before construction can begin. Drenner and others involved in the project believe the proposal will reach city council by the end of the fall semester.

The residence hall is designed mainly for freshmen, and the plans provide for traditional student-housing amenities including a dining hall and a parking garage said Jack Tisdale, a senior partner at STG Design — an Austin firm hired to work on the building. The first two floors of the parking garage will be maintained by University Baptist Church for use as public parking spaces, and higher levels will be reserved for student vehicles.

“We’re really treating this space more like an arrival area at a nice hotel,” Tisdale said. “It is really our front door.”

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: University church offers land for college housing

Austin Transportation Department officials are collaborating with local residents, businesses and neighborhood organizations to finalize programs they hope will increase the efficiency of parking throughout the city.

The Parking Benefits District Program would direct how the department would install parking meters throughout neighborhoods such as West Campus, where a high volume of cars park on the street. The plan has been in the works for more than a year, but logistical challenges have slowed implementation. The planning committee for the program has drafted a final, detailed version and is working with a lawyer to prepare these initiatives for a city council vote.

A portion of the revenue from the meters would be given to the city to fund neighborhood improvements. The Residential Parking Permit Program would allow city officials to issue permits to residents of the metered districts exempting them from paying for parking in those spots.

John Lawler, urban studies senior and Student Government liberal arts representative, said he has been following the developments of both programs through his involvement with the University Area Partners, a West Campus neighborhood association.

“The Parking Benefits Program would be beneficial because we could purchase things like new lighting fixtures along certain dark alleyways to try and make the area safer,” Lawler said.

Lawler said incorporating the permit program into this system is necessary but complicated. He said the University Area Partners have been drafting the ordinance on how to implement the programs to find the most neighborhood friendly approach.

“Both programs are crowd control strategies,” Lawler said. “Creating this ordinance has been a really long process so far, but it’s getting to the point where it’s hopefully going to go to City Council soon.”

Brian Donovan, Inter-Cooperative Council general administrator, said the University Area Partners have been pushing to get permits for residents of single family houses and properties built before parking regulations were implemented in 1960. He said this system is complicated because issuing too many residential parking permits could lower profits from the meters for the city and the neighborhood.

“I don’t think it could be any worse than it is now because you pretty much can’t park anywhere,” Donovan said. “I think the new programs, once they are finalized, would be an improvement in terms of being able to drive to and park in West Campus.”

Scott Ward, economics junior and West Campus resident, said he has an especially hard time finding parking on weekends because people from other schools and areas often visit the University area then. He said he feels residential parking permits would help cut back on some of the struggle of competing to find open parking spots.

“I definitely think the funding for neighborhood improvements would also be beneficial to West Campus,” Ward said. “I think we could use things like more security and cameras to help us pinpoint what the safety problems are and how we can address them.”